OCALA, Fla., August 27, 2013 — America stands at the precipice of yet another Middle-Eastern war, this time in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against his own people. This is just the latest development in his nation’s long-running civil war. Very little is clear about the true nature of this conflict.
There are three narratives here: Assad is a ruthless dictator who wishes to suppress the interests of freedom fighters; Assad is an embattled leader who is trying to maintain some sense of order in the face of jihadist radicalism; Assad is a ruthless dictator who whishes to suppress jihadist radicals, and no matter who wins, America loses.
For now al-Assad has gained the upper hand in Syria’s struggle. A great many of his opponents are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and if they gain power, then militant Islamic fundamentalism will have scored yet another victory.
Assad, like his father before him, is a member of a religious minority who has fostered an environment of, by modern Middle Eastern standards, theistic tolerance. He has maintained a stable society for years. His government does not consist of radical street activists, but well-educated, professional-minded bureaucrats.
Prior to the civil war, al-Assad’s Syria was not the worst place in the Middle East.
Now, al-Assad is threatening to attack Israel if America takes military action against him. If Israel is attacked, it will retaliate. If the level of retaliation is high enough, other countries — Russia and Iran among them — would be pulled directly into the conflict, and World War III could be the result.
What sane person can honestly want such a thing?
The United States needs to adopt a foreign policy that serves its own, carefully identified interests. We have little to gain and much to lose from intervening in Syria. Why must we solve the problems of a faraway country whose people don’t really like us, anyhow?
Most Americans realize that, outside of Israel, the chance for a Western-style republic in the Middle East is almost zero. Western cultural values aren’t shared by most of the Middle East, and even if they opt for democracy, as in Iran, it will look nothing like ours.
The countries of the region are generally riven by fratricidal warfare, or united under anti-democratic strong-man governments. At least with the latter, some form of diplomatic relations are possible. In the case of the former, civil society isn’t on the radar.
Keeping American troops out of Syria is the rational choice. Assad and the rebels should be left to duke it out alone. The chips will fall where they may.
The United States, meanwhile, should look inward to manage its multitude of pressing domestic affairs. Let’s get our own house in order before ordering anyone else’s.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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